I packed up a few art supplies, several sizes of canvas, and set up shop to use a shipping container as my art studio for a week. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to create that week in terms of finished paintings, or if I’d just to aim for more exploratory color compositions and sketches for later use. I looked forward to meeting the other artists and to working with artist and curator Nick Paciorek during the residency stay.
I hadn’t painted at an art residency since 2019, before covid and before the traumatic ordeals with my father’s and father-in-law’s deaths. Since January 2022, I had begun painting again after taking time off from all that, and I was painting fairly productively out of my studio again. When I heard about “The Artist Life” experience at the Pitcher-Goff House, I thought it would be just what I needed to work in another space for a change of scenery, and to hopefully open me up to some new ideas or new approaches to my work.
When I arrived, I was assigned a shipping container to work in. The shipping container studio included electricity, lights, studio easel and plein air easel, a large storage cabinet, and a table. One end of the container doors opened completely to provide light and fresh air, and a really amazing view over the hill and into the downtown below. An additional sliding glass door installed in the shipping container provided more than enough light and airflow. Since I was there in late April, the weather was perfect (for me), in not still being too cold or too warm. Later in the week the wind kicked up and the temperatures dropped a little, so I turned on the provided space heater to keep the space cozy and warm while painting. There are four shipping containers arranged around a central courtyard area with patio chairs and tables, all oriented to take in the view.
One of the features of any art residency is the ability to work with and bounce ideas off the other artists. Upon checking in with Nick, I discovered there were two last-minute cancellations, making this a solo experience for me. That actually worked out as a perfect way to ease back into my art residency flow, and it ended up opening the way for me to have a much more personally tailored art residency experience.
It was really refreshing to be encouraged to create without any worries of making a mess on the floor or walls. I had planned on bringing a drop cloth with me, but Nick said not to worry about it. In my home studio, space is much tighter and I’m more aware of attempting to keep paint off the floor and walls.
DAY 1: MONDAY
I began Day 1 with painting a small composition inspired from a spring kayak trip in pond the day before, with lots of greens, aqua, and earth colors. I brought several sizes of canvas, but started small as a warm-up before hopping to larger canvases. By the last day of the residency, I had painted on a 24″x48″ canvas for the first time in two years!
DAY 2: TUESDAY
For the start of Day 2, I worked on a new painting inspired by the colors and composition of the newly-greening buds just barely visible on the tips of the trees within view from the end of the shipping container, contrasted with a blue and cloudy sky. I worked on both paintings simultaneously at different phases, applying dots and daubs to one while adapting and editing the drips and raindrops of the painting’s application the day before.
Between painting sessions, Nick and I took breaks to chat about the broad range of topics related to a working artist life over coffee and lunch: testing markets, work/life/art balance, shipping, art shows, and even how grief and mourning affects an artist’s process. We talked over our inspirations and challenges, and Nick took a genuine interest in getting to know the ins and outs of my rainy oil painting technique, asking critical questions on if I had tried using a particular tool, substrate, or subtle change in how I moved my paintbrush. All week he asked great questions that challenged me about how I approached or thought about my “Abstracted Rainy Moments” body of oil paintings.
DAY 3: WEDNESDAY
In the morning of the third day, the sky was an interesting combination of being both cloudy and also being very blue and clear at times, so following the inspiration, I created a 18×24 painting examining just the clouds and sky, and anticipating how my rain technique, when applied, would affect the painting outcome.
On Wednesday afternoon, Nick challenged me to take one of his own oil paintings, with his distinctive color palette and the composition of a city scene, and to apply my rain drip technique to it! At first, I thought he was kidding, but he was completely serious. I have never been invited to touch up another artist’s painting with my own paintbrush, let alone a world-class international artist inviting me to apply my own technique to the whole painting. It was exciting and intimidating all at the same time. What if I messed up his painting?!
After overcoming the fear and trepidation of messing up his composition, I moved forward with generously applying stand oil, and using my paintbrush to drag color drips down from the top down to the bottom using pressure and a vertical motion. While I was in the beginning phases of using a blending brush to feather and edit the drips into one another, Nick entered my studio and mixed some stand oil with pigment. When I turned away from the canvas to clean my brush, Nick leaned into the canvas and began applying more globs of pigmented stand oil in bold strokes on the dripping canvas in a wet-on-wet technique. This is not my usual modus operandi! So as soon as he paused to clean his brush and mix colors, I frantically started trying to blend the new blobs of color into the overall rainy texture of the painting, holding my breath most of the time. What ensued after that was a dance in which each of us would alternate in pivoting back to the canvas and making or editing marks in the paint. I truly had no idea which blobs he’d add where on the canvas, so I was really shaken out of attempting any control whatsoever of this painting, so I just went with the flow by responding intuitively with where I edited the paint next. An embedded video Reel below shows a fraction of the transformation.
The result was a beautiful dripping rain-looking painting but with a much more abstract, urban contemporary feel. I worked the rest of that afternoon on editing, shifting, and modifying the drips of that painting. Since there was way more extra stand oil on the paintings, the drips shifted much more quickly than my standard rain-painting process, and the majority of the rest of the day was my constant battle of painting the rapidly-moving paint drips upwards against gravity, while blending and adapting the painting. You can see just how much the painting changed and shifted from its original in the before/after slider image below:
DAY 4: THURSDAY
In the morning of the fourth day, I spent most of it continuing to paint and edit drips and surface texture of the three paintings I had created yesterday, and in the days before. Despite tilting my easel on an obtuse angle to slow the overnight drip progress of the collaborative painting, there was still significant changes to the imagery and texture.
After lunch, Nick showed me a color exercise which which now I can’t not think about Essentially, over several rounds of selection, I had to narrow down color swatch cards from 100 down to 20, then down to 15, down to 10, down to 5, then 3. Then choose the ONE color I would want to be stranded on an island with for my remaining days, as he dramatically phrased it. Then I was to pair this final color with its opposite swatch until I could sense the “color vibration” on my eye’s cornea.
These final two colors, and a third, completed the “color world in which I live.” Essentially these are the colors I’m drawn to in life, in my paint palette, what I wear and choos. Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised to know that my number one color ended up being a shade of an emerald/aqua/turquoise/blue-green, and its opposite was a very warm red-orange; my third color was a warm purple. These three colors actually were featured as my wedding colors over a decade ago!
In discussing colors for color’s sake again, I challenged myself instead to abandon the landscape-rain trail I had been taking earlier in the week, and instead went non-objective abstract again with full abandon, but still with the rain/drip element that has become my signature style. I created a very simple grid concept using these three colors to see how it would look when each color dripped into the next color as part of the rain. The results were quite exciting and I found it intriguing, looking to observe which small sections of the painting included elements where the colors caused cornea vibrations when adjacent to one another.
At the end of the day, I was treated to the panoramic views from the rooftop of the Pitcher-Goff House, a 360 degree view of Pawtucket and into Providence. In addition to the color exploration painting, I continued to use Day 4 to still continue to modify and edit the drips of the collaborative painting that Nick and I had worked on the day prior. Because it was still really wet, the colors and textures continued to drip significantly.
DAY 5: FRIDAY
Day 5 was to be my last day. I felt like I was just finally warming up and opening up to broader possibilities! My focus for today’s painting was continuing to stay in the mindspace and motivation of continuing this abstract streak. In discussion with Nick, I chose to continue to ride the wave of abstract and color. My idea for the biggest canvas was to do a sheer color exploration of the second-tier hues discovered from the color exercise (which were essentially related to my top 3 chosen ones).
Instead of making thousands of tiny dots as is usually my custom in starting these pointilism-turn-rain paintings, I use large brush strokes of white paint, diagonally across the canvas. Then on the opposite diagonal, I made long and short dash strokes of thick paint of some third-tier colors: a mint green, a darker red-orange, a cerulean blue, coupled with my original three colors of warm purple, turquoise and red-orange. When each stroke crossed paths with white, the color shifted lightly. I applied my stand oil and rain technique and sat back to watch what would happen. I even challenged Nick to try out the rain technique I’ve used, so he tried it himself to my painting for a couple of strokes.
My idea for these next experimental painting is to let the first stand-oil/paint layer dry (I left a few blank areas in order to allow transparency through the next layer) and then to paint another stand oil /paint layer over this one after it’s dried and see how the layers contribute to the feeling of depth in the space of the painting.
With some paint finally on the last canvas on the last day, I felt accomplished but also bittersweet that this brief residency experience was coming to an end. Working with Nick Paciorek during “The Artist Life” residency helped me to push some creative limits of my artwork, and to consider and experiment with new ideas, concepts and approaches, all still tailored directly to my own style and essential subject matter of artwork. Throughout the residency, I made a list of the many different things I want to try in a future pursuit of continuing to evolve my oil paintings of rain. Now the big question is: should I get started right away on trying this new direction, or let it simmer awhile?